Acknowledging a "confidence gap" with taxpayers, President Obama ordered his Cabinet on Monday to cut a total of $100 million from office expenses over the next 90 days - but his effort was immediately ridiculed by Republicans who said it was a pittance.
The president said the cuts, while not big, "send a signal we are serious" about looking for savings. He said the money will be spent on higher priorities, such as health care.
"One hundred million there, $100 million here, pretty soon, even in Washington, it adds up to real money," Mr. Obama said after holding his first Cabinet meeting. Mr. Obama's remark bore a similarity to one from the 1960s attributed to another one-time senator from Illinois, Everett M. Dirksen, a Republican who reportedly once said, "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money."
The White House said agencies already have been working on cuts, including the Agriculture Department's consolidation of personnel to save $62 million over 15 years on leases; the Homeland Security Department's decision to buy office supplies in bulk to save $52 million over five years; and Veterans Affairs' decision to cancel or delay 26 conferences to save $17.8 million.
But with a deficit this year projected to be well in excess of $1 trillion and Mr. Obama calling for spending to reach $3.6 trillion in 2010, congressional critics said the savings were paltry. The $100 million goal is less than .003 of 1 percent of that 2010 budget.
"Any amount of savings is welcome. But according to Congressional Budget Office numbers, that's about the average amount we'll spend every single day on interest payments alone on the stimulus package," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
Mr. Obama wants to cut the budget deficit in half by 2012 and promised to go "line-by-line" through the budget to scrap programs that don't work. He said Monday that in the next few weeks he will present 100 specific cuts to programs, and said the savings will be spent on health care, education and his other priorities.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican, said any savings the managers find should go to reducing the deficit, not to spending on other things. He introduced a bill Monday to force that change.
"If government managers identify areas to save money, eliminate waste, or trim their budgets, they should do so with the certainty that the money saved will go to good use paying down our growing debt and not spent by some other irresponsible department," Mr. Sessions said.
Congressional Democrats say they already are working to streamline spending by holding hearings to root out waste.
But on the first go-around, the 2010 budget, both sides realized just how difficult spending cuts will be. Mr. Obama's proposed cuts to agriculture payments and his call to reduce the tax deduction that high-income taxpayers can take for charitable giving were rejected by Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress.
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